Q&A With MAT Student Sandra Garcia

Sandra Garcia is a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) student from South El Monte, California, where she lives with her husband and two sons. Prior to attending USC, she earned her bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Mount Saint Mary’s University. Garcia is scheduled to graduate in May 2016 with a single subject teaching credential in social studies. Originally from Mexico, she says she is motivated by her experiences to give back to her community and become a mentor. Read on to learn more about Garcia’s time in the online MAT program and her plans for the future.

Why did you choose to pursue your degree online? When I registered for the MAT degree, I was working from 50 to 80 hours per week, in addition to being a mother and wife. I was also serving my church and participating in some extracurricular activities. I needed a program with the flexibility to accommodate my crazy schedule, but one that would offer the same rigor and the same benefits of an actual classroom. USC Rossier’s online master’s degree program offers both. I love being able to have live classes, raise my hand and ask questions, and learn from my classmates in real time — the same way I would in a campus classroom.

Even though I am only 30 minutes away from the Los Angeles campus, the online program allows me to get an extra hour of homework time with my kids, or spend time eating dinner with my family or attend the kids’ martial arts or sports practices. I love every second of it.

Why did you enroll in your program? What are you hoping to accomplish with your degree? I want to become a teacher because I believe in the power of education with all my might. I have felt in my own life the power of a teacher’s smile, a kind word, a caring heart. I have experienced how education changes a student’s self-worth, family relations, income, expectations, ideas and outcomes. I have lived through the gradual transformation and empowerment that comes through education, and I want as many children as possible to have a similar experience. Especially those who, like me, are more at risk — those who just by the color of their skin, their language or their socioeconomic level might already be condemned to a life of poverty and destitution. I want to be an agent of change for these children.

What are the three best aspects of your program? One of my biggest accomplishments in life has been to enroll at the University of Southern California for my MAT degree. Every semester I marvel at the excellence of its courses, its professors and my classmates. Without doubt, that is one of the best aspects of my program — excellence. I know I am learning from some of the brightest minds in the field of education, through some of the best courses developed in the subject.

Another great aspect of my program is the amount of resources available for the students. The support system for students is very strong. We are provided with everything we need to succeed in the program and to become the best teachers we can be.

Last, I have to include one of the reasons that drew me to the program in the first place — a focus on urban teaching. One of the elements of USC Rossier’s vision of a teacher is the concept of advocacy. Every class I have taken in this program has reminded me of such a vision, and it aligns perfectly with my goal of becoming an agent of change in education.

 Is there a unique or interesting class assignment or project you’ve worked on? “Instruction for Teaching English as a New Language” was a particularly significant course for me. It required a case study, and the subject was an English language learner at our placement. Just the fact that I understood the difficulties that my subject was facing, because I had experienced similar struggles, was challenging and personal enough. But after I interviewed him and his family, I could not believe how many parallels there were between his life and mine. The whole class was as exhilarating as it was emotionally and cognitively draining, but throughout the whole process I kept thinking that students like him, or like me, were the reason I was becoming a teacher. One day, when I am in front of a classroom full of kids in similar circumstances, I can tell them that they too can succeed. One day, I can show them it can be done.

Is there an interesting professor or classmate you’ve met? I cannot select one specific professor or classmate. I have been fortunate enough to encounter only caring, knowledgeable and passionate professors. They all have molded and transformed my teaching philosophy and style. With my classmates, I have been equally blessed. I can say with total honesty that my classmates were extremely smart and talented men and women, committed to transforming lives through education. They provided rich dialogues and challenging questions; they help me grow by their example and their passion to teach.

Where do you see yourself in five years? In five years I see myself in front of a junior high or high school class during the day, while teaching one or two community college courses at night or on the weekend. I see myself finishing a doctorate in education. I envision myself doing research and writing about it. I dream of exploring other areas or interests that I have postponed until “I have more time” or “when my kids are older,” like salsa dancing, martial arts, painting, or photography and music. In five years I see myself putting into practice all the training I have received.

Is there any advice you want to pass along to another person considering your online degree program? For those considering enrollment in the MAT online program, I have one thing to say: Do not postpone it! All the sacrifices, the time and the money invested are worth it. The pride that comes from being a Trojan is indescribable. The knowledge that you will gain from the program is superb, and the sense of accomplishment that comes from teaching and being an agent of change in the classroom is incomparable.

 Learn more about the USC Rossier School of Education's Master of Arts in Teaching program delivered online.